Agencies get in step with the DATA Act
- By Randy Terlecki
- Jan 29, 2015
The Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act of 2014 followed a number of statutory requirements to report publicly and more frequently on agency spending. The act is the first open data law in the United States to transform, standardize and publish all federal spending information from disconnected sources in a common format.
Every day, agencies capture, record, store and retrieve digital data that must be accurate and complete in order to meet records management and archival requirements.
The DATA Act begins to provide a governance blueprint for consistent preservation and dissemination. But the ever increasing volume, velocity and variety of data presents accountability and transparency hurdles.
So while the DATA Act offers the government a new opportunity to enhance the rigor and usefulness of financial reporting, it’s not without its challenges.
To date, many agencies fall short of statutory reporting requirements. In its recent analysis of the data on USASpending, the Government Accountability Office reports that agencies are behind. GAO compared data available on USASpending with agency records and also found significant misreporting and data quality problems related to grants and loans.
Although eager for specific and consistent guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department regarding the new requirements in the DATA Act, agencies tend to be concerned that new reporting requirements will burden an already compliance-burdened workforce.
To address challenges associated with common data elements and formats, the DATA Act directs Treasury and OMB to establish a consistent and common way of expressing core concepts like agency, grantee/contractor, time and locations. These guidelines establish a common data format, such as XML or eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), for all existing spending reports.
One agency marching to meet new DATA Act mandates is the Securities and Exchange Commission. which is making EDGAR datasets publicly available. The Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval database performs automated collection, validation, indexing, acceptance and forwarding of submissions by companies and others who are required by law to file forms with the SEC.
Going forward, agencies have specific DATA Act deadlines:
In May 2015, Treasury and OMB must establish government-wide data standards for all existing federal spending reports. These standards will include common data elements and a common data format.
In May 2017, Agencies must begin reporting their spending information using the data standards and OMB must finish a pilot program testing the standards for recipient reporting.
In May 2018, OMB and Treasury must begin publishing all standardized spending data on USASpending.gov.
In August 2018, OMB must decide whether to require all federal grantees and contractors to report their information using the data standards.
With agencies and contractors marching in cadence to meet the DATA Act policies and guidelines, we can finally look forward to true financial transparency.
Randy Terlecki is the CIO/Senior Executive at ARRAY Information Technologies.